Set in the middle of downtown San Francisco, Corey Lee's Benu restaurant is an advanced laboratory of Asian-Fusian cuisine that isn't afraid to try adventuresome, interesting dishes.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA, USA
PRICE PAID: $298 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10
Corey Lee is a rising-star alum of Daniel in New York and the French Laundry in Napa, and is in the process of making a name for himself in the fine-dining world. Benu has only had their third Michelin star since 2014, and the whole place exudes a rockstar vibe that I found very cool.
With its own beautiful urban courtyard and a gorgeous, understated interior, I found even the walk inside an entrancing start to the evening.
The first portion of the meal consisted of approximately 10 mini-courses, called Small Delicacies. The first one out was this absolutely stunning winter melon and chicken cream with caviar. There was a nice gel texture in the under layers, and the gold leaf is over-the-top but adds beautiful colors to an already gorgeous dish. Wonderful start. 10/10.
Next, a small grouping of delicately-plated dishes- mushroom with squash and pine nuts, eggplant uzu, then ginkgo nut. 8/10 overall
These next three were a really impressive experimentation with textures. A cured, unlaid egg with bacon, a "Beggar's purse" with essence of oak tree, and an Eastern Chinese "drunken chicken" dish with quail jelly. Overall, 9/10.
The unlaid egg is exactly what it sounds like, and it literally explodes in your mouth under lots of tension- 9/10, a really fascinating dish.
The Beggar's purse is full of mushrooms, and unfortunately was a bit dry... 8/10
The Quail jelly is firm, and the chicken has great texture- 9/10
Next came an Eel taco wth mountain yam with a tiny micro-lime perched nearby. Great textures with the crunchy shell, and the eel was fresh and delicious. 10/10.
An amazing square slice of bread with barbecue duck liver and pork, then liver again, with a marinade as the sauce. Nice, strong sherry flavors. 9/10.
A "1,000-year-old quail egg," came next. We were informed that they were actually aged in Korean pots for 4 weeks. Right after serving, a thick cabbage broth with ginger spice and foam was poured over. It had a little spice kick to it, which was almost perfect. 9/10.
Tomato and celtuce came next. Celtuce is a vegetable that I had never experienced before- this HuffPost article nicely summed up my response. Strong bruschetta flavors throughout. 7/10.
Next came an ornately-served lobster coral Xiao Long bao. Corey offers an extensive explanation of the dish here, but the bao is served super hot and with strong ginger and vinegar flavors. 8/10.
Next, a very good marinated sea urchin and fermented crab sauce. The urchin is good, but not Tokyo good. Rich tastes of whole wheat. 8/10
It comes with a not-terribly-photogenic broth.
This cucumber dish with peanut and black truffle had a steamed bun off to the side. Very umami and rich. 8/10.
Next, a whole braised abalone with chicken and Iberico ham. 9/10
So, first and foremost, this isn't real shark fin soup. Dry salt-cured ham from Jinhua gives the soup its flavor- egg white custard at the base with Dungeness crab. 8/10. Another really creative dish.
Kampuchea tea- a delicious palate-cleanser. 8/10.
An unspeakably soft, beautifully shaped Hosui pear sorbet, 9/10
A beautiful apricot dessert with Osmanthus flowers and almonds. 10/10
Lastly, a lovely, delicate sculpture of dark chocolate with candied seeds. Big, crunchy, delicious. 9/10.